Navy Sailor Faces New Charges in Espionage Case, Allegedly Shared Military Intel with Chinese Official

A San Diego Navy sailor, Jinchao Wei, accused of sharing photos, videos, and over 50 manuals of U.S. military intelligence with a Chinese intelligence official, is facing new charges. Wei appeared before a judge Thursday for an arraignment on a superseding indictment and pleaded not guilty to three new charges added to his case.

The 22-year-old is accused of providing detailed information on the weapon systems and aircraft aboard the USS Essex and other amphibious assault Navy ships. Prosecutors stated that Wei, who was born in China, was approached by a Chinese intelligence officer in February 2022 while he was applying to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Wei admitted to the officer that he knew the arrangement could affect his application.

Despite this, at the Chinese officer’s request, Wei provided photographs and videos of Navy ships, including the USS Essex, which can carry an array of helicopters, according to the initial indictment. Additionally, the initial indictment alleged that Wei included as many as 50 manuals containing technical and mechanical data about Navy ships and details about the number and training of Marines during an upcoming exercise.

The Justice Department charged Wei under a rarely used Espionage Act law. He also faces additional charges for exporting defence articles without a license and one charge for naturalization fraud. According to the superseding indictment, Wei lied to the U.S. government during his naturalization process.

Gary Barthel, a retired lieutenant colonel and military law expert, commented on the case and the espionage charges, stating, “Any time that a U.S. attorney’s office wants to add charge or charges in a specific case, they have to get a superseding indictment to do that and so I anticipate that they will be additional charges filed in this case.”

Lt. Barthel expressed concerns about the potential threat posed by such actions, noting, “It does expose all of the sailors on this ship to a threat, but it also exposes other U.S. Navy ships as well to the same sorts of threats. This information in the hands of the Chinese can be devastating to the U.S. National Security.”

Wei is one of two California-based sailors accused of accepting bribes in exchange for sending military information to China. The other sailor was based out of Naval Base Ventura County and was arrested around the same time. Wei is due in court again on Monday for his status hearing.

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